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Geography of Israel: Mt. Gilboa

Mount Gilboa (Hebrew: הַר הַגִּלְבֹּעַ, הר הגלבוע), sometimes referred to as the Mountains of Gilboa, is the name for a mountain range in Israel. It overlooks the Harod Valley (the eastern part of the larger Jezreel Valley) to the north, and the Jordan Valley and Hills to the southeast to the west, respectively.

According to the Old Testament, Mt. Gilboa (which is really a ridge and not a single mountain) is a place of tragedy and triumph. Israelis flock here every year from February to April to see the multitude of wildflowers and the famed purplish Gilboa Iris (Iris Haynei).

It was here that Saul, the first King of Israel, and his sons died fighting the Philistines, “And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa” (Samuel I 38:8).

A minor battle between the army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and Sultan Saladin took place at the foot of Mount Gilboa in 1183.

The 1260 Battle of Ain Jalut was fought at the foot of Mount Gilboa. The success of the Muslim Mamluks against the Mongols marked the end of the westward push of the Asian empire and ensured the survival of Muslim Egypt.

Most of what is today a scenic road is what used to be known as Patrol Way, prior to 1948. While most of the road is now paved, you may actually want to veer off and take some of the unpaved paths and walk a bit – to get the best views of the valley. If you would like to have a picnic, (the mountain almost beckons it), it might be worth your while to go a few minutes out of your way to pick up a picnic basket first. There are many picnic areas along the scenic route.

From the Gilboa, you’ll be able to see the valley below. This area of the Jezreel valley is known as the Harod Valley, and it is full of fishponds that attract a great number and variety of birds, including cormorants, pelicans, storks, seagulls, and ducks. You’ll also be able to see the hill of Moreh, where the Philistines assembled to fight Saul, Mt. Tabor (site of the Transfiguration of Jesus), and the mountains of the Jordan Valley. On a clear day, you might even see Mt. Hermon to the north.

David, who replaced Saul, lamented his fallen king. In Samuel II 1:21, “Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.” Over the years – some have taken this curse literally, as the reason for the seeming baldness of Mt. Gilboa. But in recent years, the Jewish National Fund has planted thousands of trees that have greatly changed the situation, although bald spots are still clearly visible.

Depending on what else you plan on seeing in the area, decide whether you want to drive from west to east (entering near tel Yizre’el, which offers a spectacular observation point of the valley). Or, if you want to drive from east to west, beginning in the Nir David area (see related story Stockade and Tower). Nir David is also close to the ancient Beit Alpha synagogue at Kibbutz Heftziba. The scenic route is #667, and the road that leads to/from Beit Alpha is #6666.

One unusual opportunity is to go skiing or snowboarding at Ski Gilboa, an area with a small hill and artificial snow.  

Late winter and early spring are the best time to savor the full splendor of the Gilboa and the valley below.

Sources: Copyright © 2000 Gems in Israel All rights reserved. Reprinted with Permission.
Mount Gilboa, Wikipedia.

Photo: Beivushtang at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Ski area: ©Mitchell Bard
Map: Israel location map.svg NordNordWestderivative work: ויקיג'אנקי, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.